In the month since David Bowie’s death, every Tom, Dick and Ziggy has had a crack at ‘Starman’ or ‘Rebel Rebel’ in tribute. Some good, some bad, but all worthy of our respect for the sentiment shown. But expectations were high for Lady Gaga’s Bowie medley at the Grammy’s – she’s been trumpeted as the heir of Bowie’s chameleonic and theatrical art-pop baton, a true Bowie apostle, so we were expecting a spectacular, absorbing musical eulogy.
And that’s what we got, for at least a minute. The opening section of the performance honoured Bowie’s visionary multi-media achievements perfectly. As Gaga warbled through a chunk of ‘Space Oddity’ her face was projected with visuals of ‘Aladdin Sane’ lightning bolts, Bowie’s trademark forehead moons and a presumably Martian spider merging and melting into each other. Jaw-dropping and fittingly inventive stuff; but when she emerged onto the stage with her ornate white cloak, sequinned jumpsuit and splash of red hair she might just as easily have been doing a tribute to Barry Manilow if she weren’t singing ‘Changes’.
The entire performance trod this fine line between the sublime and the laughably ridiculous. Her ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Suffragette City’ smacked of old Saturday night amateur cabaret shows like Stars In Their Eyes, but when her keyboard started gyrating beneath her fingertips like a Korg Transformer and her microphone itself tried to stop her singing into it, it looked like the ghost of Bowie’s stagecraft trying to get in on his own tribute. ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Fame’, complete with wonky dancing and bizarre rope-play, were simultaneously bad impersonation and audaciously bold evocation. It was only when she took on the tone of an operatic Bonnie Tyler having uncontrollable spasms for ‘Let’s Dance’ that the whole thing collapsed into weak parody, saved at the very last minute by a spirited take on ‘”Heroes”’, but let’s face it, a surprise guest appearance from Psy couldn’t have screwed that song up.
Florence was on her feet. Lionel Ritchie was clearly in awe. Over on Twitter, Bowie’s son Duncan Jones spoke for many when he typed “‘Overexcited or irrational, typically as a result of infatuation or excessive enthusiasm; mentally confused”. But for the casual viewer, Gaga’s performance showed she doesn’t quite have the vision or sheer alien star power to truly emulate her one-of-a-kind hero. Mind you, who does?